POPE Francis sought to give new life to his efforts to help Syrian refugees when he visited the Greek island of Lesbos some two weeks ago, then brought back with him to the Vatican 12 Syrians in three families. The three families had fled Syria for Turkey, then set out for Greece across the Aegean Sea, and reached Lesbos where they found hundreds of other refugees all seeking to move on to central Europe.
Pope Francis was accompanied by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens. The 13 from Lesbos brought to 20 the number of refugees now living in the Vatican – a small number indeed. But Vatican has fewer than 1,000 inhabitants and if the rest of Europe with its 300-million population would take in refugees in the same proportion as the Vatican, some six million would be able to find new lives in Europe.
Unfortunately, the Pope’s continuing mission to help the refugees fleeing the fighting in Syria is going against increasing resistance among the countries of Europe. Last month, the European Union drew up an agreement with Turkey, under which Turkey agreed to take back the asylum seekers who had already reached Greece, in return for which the European Union promised to give Turkey 6 billion euros to help the 2.7 million Syrians now stuck in Turkey.
In effect, this will close the Aegean route and Syrian refugees will have to take other routes across the Mediterranean to reach Europe – Italy, Spain, Russia, and Finland. The three Syrian families that Pope Francis brought back with him to the Vatican were truly lucky that the Pope came when he did and gave them new life.
The long-range solution to the refugee crisis would be an end to the war in Syria. A partial ceasefire was reached last February between Syrian government forces and most of the rebel groups, but not with the extremist Islamic State and the al-Nustra Front. The United States has decided to send an additional 250 Special Forces troops to join the forces fighting these extremists. Meanwhile, peace negotiators have been meeting in Geneva with the assistance of the United Nations.
Thus, on so many fronts – in the battlefields of Syria and in the conference halls of Geneva – many nations are striving to resolve the Syrian problem. Pope Francis has chosen to concentrate his efforts on the human angle, on the people who are the ultimate victims of the fighting. “All refugees are children of God,” he said as he continued his appeal to the people of Christian Europe to take in and help the mostly Muslim refugees from Syria.